roasted butternut squash + pancetta risotto

Perhaps my best years are gone. When there was a chance of happiness. But I wouldn’t want them back. Not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn’t want them back. ― Samuel Beckett, Krapp’s Last Tape & Embers

Lately I’ve been thinking about the word pivot — a fixed object on which another mechanism oscillates. Here you are, frightened of the wintering, of the frozen, snow-covered earth, of things withering, dying. You’re cemented to this place, this life you’ve always known, and there goes life, oscillating wildly. Passing you by. This puts you to thinking of when you were young, a time when a carousel lifted you up in the air and this was a time when the concept of tumbling to the ground was impossible. When the notion of falling, of hurt, of pain, was inconceivable. There was only you in the carousel, ascending, mid-flight, and the ground was the fixed point on which you oscillated. It was possible to touch sky. Lift your feet. There you go. Soaring.

And then you grew up.

You have become a barnacle to the familiar. In Provence you stood in front of a carousel and wanted so desperately to hop on. You paced the street reasoning with yourself. You are not a child. You are an adult. But still. On a plane you tap through a hundred shows and you pause when you spy this one. Here is a woman who uprooted her life to start a new one. But she’s 31 and still young and spritely and you’re 36, on the verge of 37, and is it possible to even conceive of starting over? So you watch her show, get lost in it, not because she’s whipping souffle, but because she’s a mark in the road. A pivot.

In the end, you want it to have mattered. All of it. You want to go back and touch sky, and you realize it’s possible to do this.

But not yet.

I thought of all this today whilst preparing a meal for my friends. Craving comfort, I wanted to create something new, something warm and magnificent, and this risotto is definitively IT. Risotto is easy to make, you just have to linger, be present, fight the urge to rush things. You burn risotto if you don’t ladle in hot stock, slowly. You ruin risotto by trying to make it reduced fat (why? the only fat in this dish is 2 tbsp of butter and a little bit of pancetta). So be present, barnacle yourself to spending time with yourself, ruminating.

Because there is still some child in you yet.

1 qt low-sodium, organic/local chicken stock*
1 cup of arborio rice
1 lb of chopped, peeled butternut squash
1/4 cup pancetta, finely diced cubes (I get an inch-thick slab and just dice away)
2 tbsp of pumpkin puree
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 shallot, fine dice
1/4 tsp truffle salt; 1/8 tsp pepper

*1 quart is the equivalent of 32oz or 2 lbs

Pre-heat your oven to 400F. Cover a large baking sheet with tin foil and oil, salt and pepper your cut, peeled squash, making sure all of the squash is slick and glossy. Roast the squash for 25-30 minutes, checking every so often. You’ll know when your squash is done when you can easily slice through the cut pieces.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

In a large sauté pan (translation: a skillet that can hold 3-4 quarts), sauté the shallots and salt on medium heat until translucent (1-2 minutes). Add in the rice until the rice browns, approximately 1-2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low.

Add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stir, and stir, and stir, until all of the liquid is absorbed. Keep ladling in the liquid in increments until all of the water is absorbed and the stock is thick and creamy. Remember, risotto isn’t a dish that will cook itself, it requires dedication, so be prepared to stand in front of the stove stirring for 20-30 minutes. Radiohead provides some comfort in these sorts of situations.

In a small skillet, brown the diced pancetta until it’s well done (1-3 minutes). I like my pancetta slightly charred, but to each her own.

Once all of the water has been absorbed, stir in the pumpkin, squash, sage, pancetta, and pepper until the risotto transforms into a satiny orange. Mix for a good minute serve pipping hot.


6 thoughts on “roasted butternut squash + pancetta risotto

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